January poses challenges to mental wellness: Wyoming LifeLine can help

By: 
Wyoming News Exchange

GREYBULL— The third Monday of January marked Blue Monday, wryly referred to as the gloomiest day of the year. 

The name was coined to reflect feelings associated with post-holiday credit card bills, weight gain and seasonal depression. Blue Monday couples our overindulgence hangover with waning motivation regarding our New Year’s resolutions.

Not to mention the weather stinks.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression, manifests in certain seasons, winter being the most prevalent time due to shorter daylight hours and less sunlight.

Blue Monday is a reminder to cultivate positive mental health practices, while January at large is dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of mental wellness.

One resource available for Wyomingites who find themselves in low spirits, now or year-round, is Wyoming LifeLine.

“Not everybody who calls is in imminent risk,” said Ralph Nieder-Westermann, president and executive director of Wyoming LifeLine. “Sometimes it’s just ‘I’m having a really bad day, and I need t speak to somebody.’ And we’re there for that, too.”

Wyoming LifeLine is part of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline network implemented nationwide in 2020 and operates two crisis call centers in the state, one in Greybull and one in Casper. Between the two, they cover the state 24/7.

“We answer calls usually within 10 seconds of the ring,” said Nieder-Westermann, adding that Wyoming has a high instate answer rate, with most unanswered calls due to people hanging up before the call center can answer or overlapping with someone already on the line.

Not all callers are suicidal. Nieder-Westermann said those who call cover a range of life situations, including food and rent insecurity, medical difficulties and grief over lost loved ones.

“There are lots of things that create the crisis. Sometimes it’s really good to just talk to a stranger that has been trained to listen,”he said. 

Along with listening, Wyoming LifeLine crisis counselors are trained to stabilize a situation, help callers come up with a plan and provide statewide resources, such as food bank locations and telehealth agencies. In December 2022 Wyoming LifeLine answered 207 calls, its highest call volume month to date.

“Our goal is to get as far upstream as possible so we get people help and services before they get to that point where they’re falling off the waterfall.”

Nieder-Westermann recognized the importance of callers speaking with someone who understands the unique struggles of living in Wyoming.

“I spoke with this woman who was having some difficulty—medical, emotional—and so she was reaching out and needed to talk to someone. She says, ‘But you don’t know what it’s like because you don’t live in a small town.’ And I said, ‘I live in Greybull!’ You could sense the relief in her voice that she was speaking to somebody who knew what it’s like to be in Wyoming.”

Nieder-Westermann also knows Wyoming can be a difficult place to ask for help, due to its isolation and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.

“No one should be ashamed to ask for help, and that’s the biggest thing that we find here in Wyoming. I don’t know where this cowboy mentality of today has gotten to where ‘I can do everything on my own.’ In the old days, people looked to each other for help, and now no one wants to look to anybody for help,” he said. “No one should struggle alone. Wyoming is number one, yet again, in deaths by suicide per capita. That’s a race that nobody wants to win, and I’m tired of Wyoming winning it.”

When asked what he’d tell someone who’s on the fence about calling, Nieder-Westermann said, “Call. We’re here to listen — no judgment.”

Instead of lamenting a New Year’s resolution that may be digging an early grave, celebrate Blue Monday and the remainder of the month by nurturing positive mental wellness practices. 

Online resources suggest the following: exercise with a friend, take up something new that makes you happy, volunteer, practice self-care and positive self-talk, work on quitting a bad habit or spend quality time with loved ones.

Mentally-well people, according to Nieder-Westermann, have a strong support system and attend to their physical and mental needs. If you or someone you love is struggling, start a conversation. There are resources even in our corner of the West.

 

This story was published on Jan. 19, 2023.

 

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